EJ Corps Week Five: The battle at Agriculture Street Landfill continues

This post summarizes week five of Akasa Thomas’ Environmental Justice Corps fellowship at LABB. Much of Akasa’s focus at LABB is on public health and the fellows recently heard from Elodia Blanco, a former New Orleans resident who led her community’s fight over contamination in their neighborhood that the government and city hid from residents for years.

Elodia Blanco, president of Concerned Citizens of Agriculture Street Landfill.

Last week, Elodia Blanco, the president of Concerned Citizens of Agriculture Street Landfill, shared her story with us at LABB. She told of how the city of New Orleans and the United States government developed a program for young African American families to become first-time homeowners, building their lives and raising their children in a new subdivision along Agriculture Street. They were never told their homes were on top of a landfill that housed debris from Hurricane Betsy and more than 50 years of the city’s trash. And they didn’t understand why their neighbors or their children were getting sick, why the piping in their homes was crumbling or why they couldn’t grow anything in their yards.

The battle over the Agriculture Street Landfill has been going on for more than 20 years, and was taken all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The final decision was going to be made in New Orleans on August 29, 2005, but because of the unfortunate events of Hurricane Katrina, there would be another 6-year wait for justice. These were the events that the residents of the Agriculture Street Landfill went through.

While hearing this story, I felt very angry about the city in which I have lived all my life. It made me feel as though I should not trust anyone. As much as people feel you should trust in the government, Blanco’s story made me feel as though the problems facing many African American families could be traced to organized oppression such as in the Agriculture Street neighborhood.

Then other questions began to form in my mind, such as: perhaps suppressing middle-class blacks by selling them homes that have tons of infrastructure problems will cause the individuals who live in them to either come out of pocket and pay to get things fixed or move away. Or maybe the aim was to get them on the land and place the residents in a compromising position or weed out the number of blacks that were actually in the city.

In addition, I felt as though the residents of Agriculture Street Landfill were targeted and I was especially angry that the EPA recognized this location as a Superfund site, yet the EPA nor the city ever stepped in to relocate residents. Why is it OK to let human beings live there? No human should have to live in such a place and slowly suffer, especially when no one bothered to tell them what was hidden under their homes.

I really appreciated Blanco sharing her struggle and how she and the rest of her organization sustained a fight that would take so much out of the average individual. The residents of Agriculture Street Landfill were just trying to get ahead and provide the essentials in life to their families. Because they jumped at the chance for something as simple as equality, they were taken advantage of for simply not knowing the truth about where they would be potentially residing for the rest of their lives.

In addition, I learned that it is very important to stay in the know, get to know all you can about each and every thing that you do. Most importantly, pool and check all your resources because not every resource that you have is looking out for your best interest or what is best for you! The situation faced by Blanco and the rest of the residents of the Agriculture Street Landfill was unfair.

But what is even more absurd is how these individuals are still fighting for justice for their deceased loved ones that the city of New Orleans and the United States government helped to put six feet under. Ironic isn’t it?

Read more about the history of Agriculture Street Landfill here.

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